As voters across the country headed to the polls on election day, nearly 200 people became naturalized U.S. citizens in a ceremony at the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston.
As citizens, they can register to vote in future elections, but when it comes to the midterms — they’ll have to sit this one out.
Originally from Trinidad, Kathleen Philemon has spent the last 25 years living in Boston and familiarizing herself with local politics, but because Massachusetts does not have same day voter registration, Philemon could not vote on Tuesday.
“I wish I could have voted, I so wanted to vote,” Philemon said. “My sisters and my brother, they were naturalized so long ago and they kept saying, you need to do it, so I did it, so I’ll be voting.”
Philemon says she will make sure her voice is heard in future elections. She’s not alone in wishing she could have voted today — Latoya Williams-Dew, a Jamaican-American citizen who has lived in Roxbury for 20 years, expected to be able to become a citizen, register to vote and submit her ballot in the same day.
“I was hoping but I was told it’s too late … I was thinking that I would register and then vote and then be a part of this election decision this year,” Williams-Dew said. “It sucks but I’ll wait.”
Representing 60 different countries, 183 people were granted citizenship on Tuesday, in a ceremony presided over by Judge Nathaniel Gorton from the U.S. District Court of Massachusetts. Before offering the oath of citizenship, Gorton had some advice for the applicants: Don’t vote until you know what you’re doing.
“One of our great civic privileges is our right to vote, but it is not only a privilege — it is a solemn responsibility,” Gorton said in a speech. “It is your duty first to become informed about the issues, to become informed about the candidates and the public offices for which they stand, and then and only then to vote.”
“These are challenging times that you have chosen to become a citizen of this country,” Gorton continued.
Volunteers with the Massachusetts Immigrants and Refugee Coalition (MIRA) waited at tables in the hallway outside the ceremony to register the newly-minted citizens to vote.
Communications Coordinator Beyza Burcak said a lot of people were disappointed to discover that they would have to wait to make their voices heard. “I heard a lot of people who were upset about it,” Burcak said. “I think this midterm election is so popular right now, everywhere on social media, in the newspapers, everyone is talking about it, so it would be great if these folks could vote today, but it’s a bitter experience for them.”
Burcak is a Turkish native and a lawful permanent resident with two more years left on her green card before she can apply for U.S. citizenship. As such, Burcak cannot vote either.
“For people here today who cannot vote, I totally understand them, I feel the same way because I cannot do it,” she said, “but I’m really hopeful that in the future, when I become a citizen, I will make sure that I will use my right to vote.”